With the summer season approaching, Dr Antonia Pritchard and Dr Sharon Hutchison from our School of Health Social Care and Life Sciences provide insights into melanoma, protecting yourself in the sun and the research they are undertaking at the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Did you know:
• Melanoma is Scotland’s sixth most common cancer?
• Not all melanoma is caused by exposure to the sun/ultraviolet radiation?
• Your immune system is capable of killing cancer cells?
As the holiday season approaches, it is a timely opportunity for us to introduce ourselves to our new Northern Scottish community and home. We have recently set up a melanoma research group at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness, thanks to funding support from Highland and Island Enterprise.
So – what is melanoma?
It is a type of cancer that arises from the melanocyte cell which produces pigment (colour) in your body.
The type of melanoma you have likely heard most about appears on the skin. It is often identified by changes to the skin such as the appearance of a new mole or a transformation in an existing mole that progressively changes in shape, size and/or colour. This type of melanoma occurs after exposure of skin to too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
In the UK, almost 9 in 10 cases of melanoma could be prevented by using high factor sunscreen, limiting the time you are exposed to ultraviolet radiation, including sunbeds, and covering up your skin when in the sun. An important thing to remember during your summer holiday! If you see any changes on your skin or your moles, please visit your GP who will examine it. This is a quick and easy thing to do and the earlier a melanoma is detected, the more likely it will be cured, so it is good to be cautious.
But – did you know that melanoma does not only appear on the skin?
Melanoma can develop in the eye (known as uveal melanoma), under the fingernails or on the palms of hands/soles of feet (known as acral melanoma) or from an internal mucosal surface, such as gums, nose or rectum (known as mucosal melanoma). These rare types of melanoma are not usually influenced by ultraviolet radiation in the same way as skin melanoma and are often detected at a more advanced stage due to their locations.
Unfortunately, once melanoma has spread, it is one of the hardest cancers to cure.
That is what we are researching to change.
The immune system is capable of specifically recognising cancer cells as being ‘foreign’ to the body, in a way that is similar to how it recognises viruses and bacteria as not belonging there. But, once a cancer has developed, it has managed to evade the immune defences. In our lab we are trying to find ways to re-stimulate the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells. Ultimately, we want to be able to identify new immune targets for treatment of melanoma.
We are excited to be able to bring our work to the university and the local community and to be part of the teams continuing to put the Highlands on the map as a place to perform life changing medical research.
Can you help with our research? Absolutely! If you have been diagnosed with any type of melanoma at any time, we have a project you are eligible to join, so please get in touch (email@example.com). You can also spread the word that we are researching melanoma at the university and that lots of different types of medical research is happening in Inverness – we love to talk about our work!
Want more information? We recommend the melanoma patient support network Melanoma UK (www.melanomauk.org.uk) and the NHS information pages contain a lot of important material about all types of melanoma.
Finally, the university’s Institute of Health Research and Innovation has a dedicated Twitter account to keep everyone up-to-date on all our new and exciting medical health research (@IoHRI_UHI).
Dr Antonia Pritchard and Dr Sharon Hutchison
University of the Highlands and Islands